The daughter of Cuban ruler Raúl Castro has told a New York Public Library audience that her country’s electoral system is democratic and that a government apology for its past persecution of gays “would be an act of hypocrisy.”
Sexologist Mariela Castro’s appearance Tuesday at a panel on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights also drew some complaints that organizers had cherry-picked the audience to avert hostile questions or other confrontations.
When one audience member asked whether the communist government needs to apologize for its persecution of gays in the past 50 years, she reportedly replied that “to ask for forgiveness now would be an act of hypocrisy that will not change the past.”
What is needed is to “transform” society to avoid future problems, Castro argued, according to the EFE and AFP news agencies.
She also declared that Cuba’s electoral system “is so democratic that no one wants to talk about it,” although she believes that “it could be even more democratic.” The Communist Party is Cuba’s lone legal political organization.
Panel member Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said she didn’t get much of a reply when she asked Castro if she could foresee expanding her push for LGBT rights to “people with different religious or political views.”
“What I was struck by, in some ways, because she has had such a passionate commitment to LGBT issues, it’s what many see as an inconsistency in a human rights framework,” Carey told The Miami Herald.
Gay Cuban dissidents accuse Castro, who heads the National Center for Sex Education in Havana, of helping only those gays who support her father’s government, and attacking the work of others as provocations.
The New York Public Library flatly denied that the organizers of the event, who work in the library’s LGBT Collections department, hand-picked audience members to ensure a friendly gathering and keep out Castro critics.
Initially announced as first-come first-served, the event drew so much interest that organizers decided later to require reservations in order to avoid having people show up and not be able to get in, the library argued. The 177 seats available went quickly.
“Unfortunately, our event space holds a finite number of people, and once registration filled up, the event was closed,” Library Director of Public Relations and Marketing Angela Montefinise wrote in a statement sent Wednesday to El Nuevo Herald.
“We understand that people are disappointed that they could not attend, but registration was done on a strictly first-come, first-serviced basis, and no one was accepted or turned away based on any factor, including political, personal or social ideologies,” she added.
But Geandy Pavón, a Cuban-born New York artist who has been highly critical of the Cuban government, said he was suspicious that almost overnight the event was changed from open-door to RSVP and then declared booked up.
“Without warning, they changed the rules of the game,” he told El Nuevo Herald. “They can control the number of people who enter” for safety and space reasons, Pavón added, “but what they should not be able to control is who can enter.”
Maria Elena Restoy, a Cuban exile who tried but could not get into Castro’s presentation, said that a man who did attend told her he had been invited by Casa de las Americas, a New York center that has long supported the Cuban government.
Other persons in the audience identified themselves as members of the Solidarity with Cuba Movement, according to journalists there. A crew from the U.S. government’s Radio-TV Marti was not allowed in.
Restoy added that people leaving the event told her there were empty seats in the audience. AFP reported the audience numbered “more than one hundred.” Library staffers said the venue did have some empty seats, because some of the people were standing, and others with reservations did not show up.
Montefinise noted that while some seats were reserved for guests of the library and the Cuban diplomatic mission to the United Nations, which helped to facilitate the event, “the majority of seats were for the public.”
Mariela Castro is on a lengthy U.S. tour that includes a presentation on LGBT rights to an academic conference in San Francisco last week, a visit to the United Nations and a meeting with the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
Her visit has been dogged by controversy, including her comment that she would vote for President Barack Obama if she could, and complaints from Cuban-American gays and members of the U.S. Congress, that she should not have been issued a U.S. visa. Miami Herald Staff Writer Steve Rothaus contributed to this report.